Only one of the four holy gospels tells of the Magi, or wise men, who visited the infant Jesus in Bethlehem, but it is one of the most well-known stories of the Bible. The Gospel of Matthew describes visitors “from the east” following a rising star in search of a child prophesied to be the son of God. They find the child in Bethlehem and offer him the three famous gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
All three items were of great value at that time. Gold, a precious metal, brought wealth and status. Frankincense, a perfume, also had medicinal uses such as arthritis relief. And myrrh, used as anointing oil or as an embalming fluid, was also an effective salve.
More importantly, each gift also holds spiritual meaning: Gold represents Jesus’ divinity and kingship on Earth, frankincense symbolizes his holiness, and myrrh refers to his eventual suffering and death.
The legend of these meaningful presents and the Magi who brought them remains a significant part of the Christmas story. It was the wise men’s generosity that established the holiday gift-giving tradition known in Western Christianity today, a custom celebrated by millions each December.